Cat Neuropathy, Phantom Pain and Declawing

I was having an email conversation last week with declawing advocate Susan when she brought up two facts I haven’t taken into consideration on declawed cats.

I’ve recently had several people tell me their cats had the procedure and came through it with great results. Susan gave me a quick education that I’d like to pass along. Two points to argue with anyone who believes declawing is good for the cat and the cats don’t suffer are:

1. Cats are good at masking their pain.
2. Cats may feel phantom pain in the same manner as amputees.

Today I’d like to talk about cat neuropathy, phantom pain and declawing.

I decided to study up a little on these subjects, also looking at the issue on human amputees. Think about it readers. Are any of you amputees? Lost a finger at work? Lost a toe to diabetes? Are any of you still in pain years later?

I believe declawed cats ARE in serious pain. They’re just very good at hiding it. I’ve had to treat a lot of different cat injuries. Stitches from fights, near paralysis from falling out of a tree during a fight. Each cat I’ve known who experienced pain was very good at hiding it.

Susan suggested people who have had their cats declawed should have the paws x-rayed to show the amount of inflammation present in the tissue. Even cats who were declawed by laser are still prone to inflammation. Get it through your heads people-declawing is PAINFUL!

The second thing I believe a lot of declawed cats suffer from is traumatic neuropathy. Take a look at this reference. It’s about humans, but it could easily apply to cats.

The article basically states all surgical or traumatic scars can damage the nerve located at the tip of the amputated area and cause pain long after the wound supposedly heals. This happens more often in wounds that were infected or took a long time to heal. Somehow the nerves get tangled up in the scar tissue.

Feline neuropathy is most often associated with diabetes. Imagine the pain a declawed cat would have to live with should diabetes cause this condition later in a cats life.

Peripheral neuropathy is caused by any number of conditions. I believe declawing may be one.

Doesn’t all of this sound reasonable as a consequence of declawing? I’m not an expert like Michael, Maggie, Barbara, Ruth or Susan. I’m only approaching this from a different angle. Anything to stop this madness. I’m sorry if I’ve omitted anyone.

Do the cats feel nerve pain for the rest of their lives after being declawed? Not to mention the damage done to muscles and tendons from the transfer of balance which happens after this cruel operation. A cat uses its toes to walk. Once part of them are cut off, the cat must compensate and this can cause pain and damage.

I’d always thought arthritis and behavorial issues were the only concerns. Susan’s thoughts added a whole new light to the issue. I’d never made any connection between nerve pain and declawing. After all, a cat can’t exactly tell us how it’s hurting.

So is the pain a declawed cat suffers caused by nerve damage or by muscle and tendon damage? It honestly doesn’t really matter. Pain is pain any way you look at it. If you love your cat, you don’t want to cause it pain. You realize your cats not only enjoy having claws, claws are necessary for many daily functions.

It burns me up to read about a declawed cat kneading and stretching its paws and the uneducated owner thinking everything is hunky-dory. Stretching the muscles after declawing can cause neuropathy pain.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) agrees declawing is a major cause of neuropathy pain which can last a lifetime. Cat owners are essentially maiming their cats.

How many people do you know who experience amputee pain who never say a word to anyone about their pain? Cats are suffering and their owners are in a state of denial.

Although surveys on human amputees vary greatly in the percentage who experience phantom pain, the general agreement is between 30%-75%. If cats fall into this percentage range then that’s a lot of cats who suffer needlessly.

A cat is better than many humans in hiding emotion. It’s part of their genetic makeup and is necessary for them to survive. I get upset at the people who tell me their cats didn’t suffer, never will suffer, and are better cats for having the procedure.

It doesn’t take an anatomy expert to know having body parts cut off, especially body parts that are used to walk, is heinous and should be illegal everywhere.

Do any of the readers know more about the phantom pain concept? Do you believe as I do that nerve pain may also occur in declawed cats?

I’m sorry I’m not an expert in this field. I’m trying everyone.




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Cat Neuropathy, Phantom Pain and Declawing

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Jan 13, 2011
Phantom pain real and widespread
by: Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

As a PTA I’ve worked with a lot of amputees. I always ask about phantom pain and every patient I’ve worked with has reported it in some form. Sometimes it’s a feeling like the missing body part is itching– maddening because the itch can be felt, but can’t be scratched. Sometimes it feels like tingling, sometimes the pain is more intense. Having the feeling that the missing limb is still there is universal. The brain is wired to send and receive signals to and from each body part. Specific parts of the frontal and parietal lobes are responsible for specific areas of the body. I don’t know cat neuroanatomy very well, but I can say with certainty that specific sections of their brains are wired from birth to receive input from their toes. This means phantom sensations from the missing toes are inevitable.

Jan 11, 2011
So true
by: Leah (UK)

You’re absolutely right Elisa of course they feel pain, how could they not? And I would certainly imagine they feel phantom pain too.

At the end of the day declawing is wrong and painful whichever way you look at it after all its an unneccessary operation carried out only for selfish, lazy keepers.

The only people who say otherwise are the vets because of their money and the selfish keepers who only think of their furniture.

Jan 11, 2011
So true
by: Leah (UK)

You’re absolutely right Elisa of course they feel pain, how could they not? And I would certainly imagine they feel phantom pain too.

At the end of the day declawing is wrong and painful whichever way you look at it after all its an unneccessary operation carried our only for selfish, lazy keepers.

The only people who say otherwise are the vets because of their money and the selfish keepers who only think of their furniture.

Jan 11, 2011
I had a cat
by: Elisa

I had a cat who was injured on her back in an outdoor fight. She had a two inch gash torn and was in need of stitches. You’d never know it to look at her. She was PLAYING in the kitchen before we left for the vet. I KNOW she had to be in pain. It took 11 stitches to close the wound. If I’d gone by how much pain she was in as to whether she needed treatment I’d have been very wrong.

We can usually look at a cats eyes and tell when they’re sick. Too bad that doesn’t work with pain itself.

Now I’m upset with how many diabetic declawed cats are out there who will develop neuropathy. The pain never ends.

Jan 11, 2011
Thank you Elisa
by: Ruth

Thank you Elisa for pointing out even more consequences of the cruel operation called declawing.
I don’t bring these points up in my arguments against it as some people will say we can’t prove phantom pain. I get so annoyed I sometimes wish they’d have to have a finger or toe amputated themselves, then they’d have all the proof they need.
Anyone with a shred of intelligence must know cats feel the same pain as we do, they are flesh and blood just like us, so how can they not !
It’s the same old story, people who don’t want declawing to stop because of selfish reasons, ignore or deny the truth and so do the vets who do this dreadful surgery.
Some people who have always had declawed cats say they are fine. But they are NOT fine, they have adjusted to living a disabled life because they have no choice, that’s all.
Cats adapt and yes Elisa is right, they hide their pain. If they howled like dogs do, declawing would never have started !
Those people who think their declawed cats are fine would find a huge difference living with a healthy clawed cat and every cat should live a healthy fulfilled life with the means to use their claws to stay healthy, provided.
It is selfish and cruel of anyone to expect a cat to pay for his home by sacrificing his very essential toe ends and claws.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Jan 11, 2011
There is no such thing as a de-clawed cat that is “fine”!
by: Susan

Thank You for raising more awareness about the ramifications of de-clawing that so few understand, & so many are in DENIAL about, inc veterinarians.

I urge everyone who lives with a declawed cat to get x-rays done of their paws (vets SHOULD be routinely examining their paws during check-ups, but do not), they need to be DENTAL RADIGRAPHS in order to see the inflammation. Check out this article about Dr. Ron Gaskin’s declaw repair surgery for more info:

About phantom pain, veterinarian Dr. Hofve says this, “…it is virtually certain that all declawed cats experience phantom pain in one or more toes. In humans, the sensations continue for life, even when the amputation took place in early childhood. There is no physiological reason that this would not be true for cats; their nervous systems are identical to ours. Cats are stoic creatures, and typically conceal pain or illness until it becomes overwhelming. With chronic pain, they simply learn to cope with it. Their behavior may appear “normal,” but a lack of overt signs of pain does not mean that they are pain-free.”

If anyone denies how much cats hide their pain, LOOK AT THIS picture – this cat was de-clawed as a kitten and walked around for 10 yrs w/this claw growing back, showing NO sign of pain, so to those of you who claim “my de-clawed cat is fine”, PLEASE, for your cats sake, GET EDUCATED!

Jan 11, 2011
by: Michael

Thanks for this Elisa. When it comes to cats suffering pain it seems to me that the American veterinarian has been, and still is, a little backward.

Until relatively recently, many vets didn’t think the domestic felt pain! Many people who abuse cats and animals probably think this.

And even today, now that they realise cats do feel pain, many vets want the cat to feel pain after a declaw operation so that they don’t walk on their mutilated feet and open up their wounds!

It is grotesque – a wrong piled up on another wrong.

I think it is almost certain that cats feel phantom pain. We just don’t know for sure. Logic tells us that it happens to the same of similar level to humans.

What is also shocking about the vets is that they don’t know. They are doing an unnecessary operation without knowing the full consequences – that is negligent in my book.

Declawing Agony of Kittens

Michael Avatar


Cat Neuropathy, Phantom Pain and Declawing — 2 Comments

  1. Our cat is missing one of hind legs – we don’t know if he was born this way or if it was surgically removed as it was missing when he adopted us. I am inclined to believe the latter as he stills try to scratch with the missing leg.m. I do wonder if he suffers. From phantom pain as he can be pretty crabby and still very cautious of any attempt to pet/brush in that area (we have had him forfour years). So it would make sense to me that removing a vital part of the cat regardless what part, would cause phantom pain or persistent neural complications.
    Sincerely julia

    • Thanks for your input Julia. It’s nice to have input about this rarely discussed health problem. My late 3 legs boy cat, Charlie, also tried to use his missing leg as if he didn’t realise that it was not there.

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